Gnarly: Adrenaline Teaching and Learning

It’s funny really. Give me an empty week and a bunch of things to do in that week and I’ve got to be honest my productivity won’t be brilliant. That’s not strictly true: the stuff will get done, of course it will, but I will inevitably be left with a slight sense of “surely I could have done more?” At the time of writing, however, I am definitely not looking at an empty week. Next week is an Internal Quality Review – essentially a mock inspection – for our department, during which time I am also looking down the barrel of my own graded observation. I’m also not the only one. There are several teachers in the department also under threat of graded obs, as well as a general “crumbs, evaluative observers!” feeling on every level in the team. 

As I’ve said before, I wear multiple hats at work, a little teacher training, a whole lot of teaching ESOL students and a significant chunk of mentoring/teacher development. This does still create tensions, but if I’m honest I generally find these quite creative, productive tensions. However, this places some responsibility on me to support fellow teachers at times like this, as well as get my stuff together for my own observations, plus a slight backlog on general day to day planning and so on owing to a colleague being off sick, things are feeling a bit, well, busy, shall we say. 
Thing is, busy is good. Busy is good for me. Not mentally over-stretched like I felt last year (if that’s a sign of weakness in your book, you know where you can stick that book), but busy with things I largely understand. I have about two and a half working days til the first lesson of the observation window, with only one or two significant gaps in which to get my shit together. This is partly due to bits of time before now being taken up with some cover, partly because I reach whole new heights (depths?) of non-productivity when I try to do anything more complex than marking when I’m at home, and, as I said, partly because when I do have the time, I never feel like I quite use it properly. But this pressure really focuses the brain, and the sensation is really rather satisfying, almost pleasurable, in fact. 
Take my evening class today, for example. I’d planned a lesson on the scheme of work as I sometimes do, thinking “I know what I want to do that day, but I’m not sure what resources to use yet” (remember kids, don’t let the resources tail wag the lesson dog) and then reaching the hour before and being acutely aware that I still hadn’t found the resources. In that same hour, I had to invigilate an assessment, so could only really partly get my head round what I wanted to do. In fact, the detailed lesson and plan all fell into place in a very clear, focussed 25 minutes during which, as an added top bonus, a colleague asked if she could come peer observe me. Obviously I said yes to the colleague, but I did need to get myself out of the room and really really get my head on the case: at times like this I get a bit flouncy, and at the same time a bit terse; basically a bit of a diva. The lesson, you may be pleased to hear, was very satisfying all round. Many positive student comments and only a teensy little bit of winging it/padding at the end (mini whiteboards in pairs and 1 minute to find answers to questions like “who can find a synonym for…?” etc.) because the main task overran and the follow up task needed more than 15 minutes for some decent learning to happen. 
There is a big chunk of arrogance and self assuredness at play here. I know I can knock together all the necessary paperwork, for example, pull my socks up on my schemes, polish my learning outcomes and generally get on it. I know I can do all this and spend time supporting people. I know that when the supporting people bit is done, I will batten down the hatches, lock the doors and get the bulk of the prep done, I also know, however, that if I write a full lesson plan at this point for a lesson next Wednesday, the lesson I teach with it will go to pieces. 

A more important factor than arrogance, however, is the adrenaline rush, insofar as teaching can be described as a high adrenaline activity. I think I get a little bit of a buzz out of the slight sense of danger that it could all go horribly wrong. Rather than inducing fear and panic, somehow it helps me stay centred and focussed. It’s not the wisest philosophy ever, but it works, and I rather like it. 


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